Workers Comp Zone


Governor Brown has vetoed 3 workers comp bills:

AB 2616 (Skinner)

AB 2378 (Perea)

AB 2052 (Gonzalez)

With these vetoes, Brown has asserted himself as a check on legislative activity relating to workers’ comp. As the Governor sails to a likely landslide re-election victory, it is clear that Brown envisions his role as a guardian against excesses in the workers’ comp arena.

All 3 bills were supported by the Democrats in the legislature and were pushed by key labor unions, including nurses, cops and firefighters.

Yet all 3 bills fell to Brown’s veto pen.

Let’s look at the 3 bills individually.

AB 2616 (Skinner) would have provided a workers’ compensation presumption of injury for certain private hospital employees who contracted MRSA. 

Here is the key portion of Brown’s veto statement:

“California’s no-fault system of workers’ compensation insurance requires that claims must be “liberally construed” to extend benefits to injured workers whenever possible. The determination that an illness is work-related should be decided by the rules of that system and on the specific facts of each employee’s situation. While I am aware that statutory presumptions have steadily expanded for certain public employees, I am not inclined to further this trend or to introduce it into the public sector.”

I’m aware that many of the folks who worked hard on this bill must be very disappointed. Several mentioned to me today that MRSA principally affects female nurses while other existing presumptions work in favor of largely male peace officers and firefighters. They believe there is a gender equity issue. This may be true, but it misses the point. Brown is not going to go for presumptions that apply to private, non-governmental employers. Period.

AB 2378 (Perea) would have allowed peace officers to draw a full year of paid Labor Code 4850 salary in addition to the 104 weeks of temporary disability allowable under the Labor Code.

In his veto message on AB 2378, Brown stated that:

“The bill provides a benefit increase for a limited class of employees. The special considerations supporting salary continuation for public safety employees do not correspondingly support the expectation that these employees will need substantially more time than other injured workers to recover from their injuries.”

It is interesting that Brown’s veto of AB 2378 comes on the heels of a Los Angeles Times article examining workers comp claims and missed time claims by public safety officers.

AB 2052 (Gonzalez) would have expanded existing presumptions to to all full time peace officers in California 

Brown’s veto message says that:

“Current workers’ compensation law provides coverage to certain categories of peace officers and firefighters for presumed compensable injuries. These presumptions, which include cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, hernia, bio-chemical illness, tuberculosis, and meningitis, were enacted in response to the types of hazards which these workers face. Over the course of many decades, California has expanded both the diseases and the kinds of safety employees which these presumptions cover.”

Brown continues as follows:

“This measure seeks to expand coverage to dozens of categories of officers without real evidence that these officers confront the hazards that gave rise to the presumptions codified in existing law. Presumptions should be used rarely and only when justified by clear and convincing scientific evidence.”

Looking at all 3 vetoes, it is clear that Brown is not going to bow to politically strong interest groups even if those groups may have been his allies on the landmark SB 863 workers’ comp reform and his political partners on other non-workers’ comp issues.

This is not a Governor who “goes along to get along”, as legendary politician Sam Rayburn used to say.

As the press writes about public safety officers’ use of workers’ comp, it is possible that there will be some who want to revisit presumptions long enshrined in the law. I doubt Brown would join in such an effort, but these 3 vetoes make clear the outer limits of what Brown is prepared to support.

It is also a cautionary tale for folks who think they can amend workers comp reforms of the last few years by eventually getting the ear of sympathetic legislators. Brown is likely to be in charge for another 4 years, and all roads lead to the Governor’s desk.

Stay tuned.

Julius Young